Saturday, June 23, 2007

Self-Awareness Check

This is from a memo crafted by outgoing UN envoy for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Alvaro De Soto, to the new UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon:
“I would urge the new secretary general not to leap into something designed to curry favor with the Bush administration’s January 2007 Middle East predispositions — these will, in any case, change,” the memo reads. “Secretary General Ban will be the secretary general in five, possibly 10 years. He should ensure that he preserves his independent role and position in the most volatile region in the world, and that he does not simply align himself with the policies of a particular U.S. administration which will be out of office in two years…. Our policy should be distinguishable from that of Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice or Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.”
A “tendency toward self-censorship — treating Israel with exquisite consideration, almost tenderness — exists at the U.N.,” de Soto wrote. This is “partly for our own reasons: the legacy of the Zionism equals racism resolution and the resulting political and budgetary cost for the U.N., and Israel’s demonstrated capacity to undermine U.S.-U.N. relations. The Israeli mission to the U.N., in my experience, has unparalleled access in the secretariat, even at the highest levels.”

Indeed, when I look at the UN's policy towards Israel and compare it to the Israeli government line, it's like I'm seeing double. And certainly, the UN's biggest problem with regards to Israel is that it is too "tender."

You can read the memo here. Other highlights:
"In the meantime, Israel has sought refuge in, and locked itself into, an essentially rejectionist stance with respect to dealing with the Palestinians, by insisting on preconditions they know are unachievable....Similarly unrealistic is the demand for recognition of Israel, which sometimes slides into forms of words such as 'recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state,' despite the fact that a consensus in Israel itself as to its Jewish character is absent, and despite Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and colonization of large chunks of it. (47-48)

Oh them crazy Israelis. Demanding that the Palestinian government recognize them as a state and disavow their objective to destroy them prior to making concessions. You'd think they were a sovereign and equal member state of the UN or something.

De Soto ends by expressing "regret" for his "reflex" to form policies based on what Israel and the US want, rather than what is "right." I'm trying to imagine what it would look like if that reflex was absent; all I'm coming up with De Soto strapping a bomb to himself and blowing up a Tel Aviv cafe (whose patrons--or "forces"--are well within the "theater of occupation").

Comic Relief

It's moments like these that would make having kids completely worthwhile:
The other day my mom was discussing the day’s Biblical lesson with Ethan. She too wonders how much he has internalized the things they teach in church, albeit for different reasons than I.

“E, do you remember the verse for the day?” she asked.

“Know the Lord,” Ethan replied dutifully.


“But the only Lord I know is Lord Vader. And he’s evil.”

Jesus....I am your Father!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Agitators and Race-Baiters: A Rhetorical History From Past To Present

Recently, the Wall Street Journal (with concurrence from Marty Peretz) compared the Duke Lacrosse Defendants to the Scottsboro boys. It's a vile and inaccurate comparison--one can recognize the injustice in the Duke case while noting the massive qualitative distinction between being released before trial and having your prosecutor disbarred, versus being sentenced to death twice and spending up to 20 years in prison before being released.

I spent much of last summer reading local news coverage of the Scottsboro Cases in the Montgomery Advertiser. I was curious to see how they dealt with the case, how they responded to the sentiment that the defendants were facing a "legal lynching" and the stunning rebuke the Supreme Court dealt when it reversed the death sentences and sent the cases back to trial.

Here's an editorial from the Advertiser responding the Court's ruling in the first Scottsboro case:
“But one significant fact stands out in this long and sordid story:

While Alabama has been blackguarded the round world over for the manner in which these men were tried and convicted, there was no conscious attempt on the part of any group of Alabamians to intimidate the Jackson county court that tried them, while intimidation of the crudest, more spectacular, and most obnoxious sort has been practiced by agitators who appointed themselves the special friends of these felons.”

“In the end insolent mobs marched in Washington with the sole purpose in mind of intimidating the highest court in the republic...

But no mobs marched in Alabama demanding the conviction of these men when they were put to trial.”

“But if there is any reasonable doubt in disinterested, responsible minds as to the fairness of the first trial, another will be granted cheerfully.

But Alabama stands conscience-clear and unashamed before the world!” [“The Supreme Court and the Scottsboro Case,” 11/8/32, (editorial), pg. 4]

It's worth noting that the paper is being somewhat disingenuous: there were mobs demanding the "conviction" of the defendants, and the paper reported them:
“Feeling as intense here last night as mountaineers from throughout the section came trooping into town…At times the crowd was estimated to number 300 and a few times there were shouts of ‘lynch them.’” [“Negroes Taken to Etowah Jail: Judge Orders Removal of Prisoners to Gadsen Under Military Escort,” MA, March 27, 1931 at pg. 1]

When the trial occurred, the paper also reported a crowd of 10,000 people gathered outside the courtroom but remained "orderly."

But what I want to focus on is the rhetoric in the editorial. Specifically, the word "agitators." "Agitators" is a word that seems to serve a very specific purpose in this article. It is designed to discredit the advocates of racial reformers just on face. In other coverage of the trial (including news pieces), the paper called the Scottsboro defendant's advocates "radicals" or "radical sympathizers."

To an extent, such wording strikes as quaint. But I think that it has some contemporary cousins whose potency might help illuminate what "agitators" and "radicals" did then. Imagine if a paper today wrote "terrorist sympathizers" and you have, I think, roughly the stimulus that "agitators" served in 1930s Alabama.

Yesterday, for my research this summer, I ran a Lexis search for "race-baiter." Here's some of what came up:
“Ex-producer for Imus calls Sharpton 'race-baiter',” Mobile Register (Alabama), May 12, 2007 Saturday, Pg. A08.

“LETTERS - Race baiters on both sides,” The Providence Journal (Rhode Island), April 15, 2007 Sunday, All Editions, EDITORIAL; Pg. D-07, 85 words. (“[Don Imus] should be punished further as a result of his whiny mea culpa at the feet of that race-baiting punk "the Rev. Al Sharpton," and the equally vile "Rev. Jesse Jackson," the worst spokesman of any ethnic group in history.”)

David Limbaugh, “Why Would Bush Adopt the Wild Rhetoric of the Race-Baiters?, “ Human Events Online, September 20, 2005 Tuesday 9:58 AM EST, , IN THE NEWS, 766 words (“The president said: "As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."I was more than a little disappointed when I heard him utter these words…. his injection of race into the speech is troubling if for no other reason than it gives ammunition and a degree of legitimacy to the race-hustlers' unconscionable ploy to blame delays or inadequacies in the federal response on the administration's alleged racial prejudice against blacks…. It is difficult to quantify the cumulative destructive impact of all the reckless, knee-jerk charges of white racism leveled by race-exploiters of both races who have something to gain by their accusations and by fanning the flames of racial tensions.”)

LIES OF THE RACE-BAITERS, The New York Post, December 19, 2006 Tuesday, All Editions; Pg. 42, (Noting that a majority of the officers implicated in the Sean Bell shooting were Black, “But the race-baiters never let facts get in the way of their trouble-making.”)

MEDIA, OTHERS ARE BUSY RACE-BAITING, Modesto Bee, September 8, 2005, Thursday, ALL EDITION, LOCAL NEWS; Pg. B7 (“Am I the only American who sees Jesse Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus, CNN, MSNBC and some in the print media as race-baiters and a serious problem to our country?... When will the administration, members of Congress and responsible media call out these troublemakers and tell them simply they are creating racism where there is none? When will we, the consumers, speak out with our wallets and insist that this cabal of hate-promoters be ignored?)

In a subsequent post, I wish to explore the function such rhetoric serves by its wielders. I think the comparison of Duke to Scottsboro is instructive in this regard. But for now, I'm interested in how the current use of "race-baiter" strikes y'all when juxtaposed next to the past use of "agitator." Do you see a link? Does it distress you? Or are you completely confident that we have jettisoned that aspect of our past and our descriptions are fair and accurate?


This is actually a neat post about the laws governing the use of infant actors in movies.

I've always wondered about relatively young kids who have roles in explicit R rated movies (e.g., the daughter in "Eyes Wide Shut"). Do they let her watch the movie? Does she get to see all the sex scenes when she's on set? Does she know what else is going on?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Women of the IDF

A few years ago, a set of cousins of a cousin (we met them at Thanksgiving) had an Israeli au pair. She was about 5'1", nice but very quiet, professional, and obviously muscular but not overtly jacked. I asked if she had served in the IDF. Yes, apparently she was in their equivalent of the Navy SEALS, but she couldn't talk about it. And, though you wouldn't know it by looking at her, she could probably kill everyone in the room in any number of quick and exceedingly lethal ways.

Some feminist bloggers (Jessica Valenti, Jill of Feministe) have noted an Israeli ad campaign based on showing semi-clad ex-soldiers in Maxim. They (and some Israeli pols) are upset. And they should be. Israel has plenty of accomplishments to its credit that don't involve bikinis.

The women in this campaign are highly trained professionals. They were members of one of the most elite armed forces in the world. When one thinks of crack soldiers, one does not stereotypically think of Jews or women. That's the barrier these women are helping break. That is something Israel deserves a lot of credit for. That's something they can be proud of.

A virtual soft-core spread? Please. It's degrading to me as part of their target demographic, it's degrading to the women, and it's degrading to the country.

How's that for PR?

Today in Tonedeaf

The United States is trying to deport the wife of missing US soldier Alex Jimenez. Jimenez was serving in Iraq when his platoon was attacked by insurgents and he was kidnapped. He had applied for a green card for his wife, Yaderlin Hiraldo--the act of which alerted US authorities to her immigration status. Incredibly, the US is refusing to grant her a hardship wavier, meaning that she could be deported as her husband is likely being tortured (if he is not already dead) for fighting for America.
"I can't imagine a bigger injustice than that, to be deporting [the wife of] someone who is fighting and possibly dying for our country," [attorney Matthew] Kolken told WBZ.
"She may never be able to return to the United States, to visit her husband's grave if necessary," Kolken said.

Their third wedding anniversary was last week.

An immigration judge has been sympathetic, putting the case on hold since Alex Jimenez was reported missing. But her case is in limbo, and her future in this country uncertain.

She is currently with family members in Pennsylvania.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has asked federal immigration officials not to deport Hiraldo.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Kerry said the grief and stress being felt by Hiraldo should not be compounded by worries about her immigration status.

"Under no condition should our country ever deport the spouse of a soldier who is currently serving in uniform abroad," Kerry said. "I feel even more strongly in this case, given the terrible uncertainty surrounding Army Specialist Alex Jimenez."

In his letter, Kerry urged that no action be taken against Hiraldo while her husband remains missing.

"I believe this is a very real test of our government's compassion for a military family which has already made enormous sacrifices for the United States," he wrote.

Via Shakes, who noted that the only reason this deportation is happening is because a US soldier wanted to do things the legal way. Unbelievable.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


A few stories floating around today seem to reveal a lot about the perspectives of important geopolitical players on the state of Israel.

The Washington Post reports on the latest actions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a body create as a "reform" for the abysmal UN Commission on Human Rights:
Members of the United Nations' new human rights watchdog panel formally agreed Tuesday to continue their scrutiny of Israel while halting investigations into Cuba and Belarus -- a move that immediately drew fire from Canada and the United States.

The Human Rights Council, formed last year to replace the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, passed the compromise package despite objections from Canada over plans to continue singling out Israel for scrutiny.

Well gosh, I'd hate for the most brutal dictatorship in Europe and communist tyranny to distract you from your real work. Carry on--and let the accusations of anti-Semitism roll off your back. They're probably all from Jews anyway.

Still in the Post, there was a very revealing editorial by senior Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef. He makes the case for the US to engage with Hamas. Honestly, it's a position I'm coming around to, for no other reason that I don't see an alternative. But editorials like Yousef's make me want to run away screaming. Here were the most indicative parts:
Some critics raise the red flag of "al-Qaeda" and say that Hamas and parliament are a stalking horse for Salafi jihadists. I defy them to demonstrate one instance in which Hamas's military structure has struck against any force outside the theater of the occupation. The struggle has always been against the Israeli agenda of ethnic cleansing and conquest. Hamas is a movement of Palestinian liberation and nationalism -- Islamist, yes, but in the sea of contending faiths that is the homeland, where is the sin in loving one's creed?
Yet it remains that Hamas has a world in common with Fatah and other parties, and they all share the same goals -- the end of occupation; the release of political prisoners; the right of return for all Palestinians; and freedom to be a nation equal among nations, secure in its own borders and at peace. For more than 60 years, Palestinians have resisted walls and checkpoints intended to divide them. Now they must resist the poisonous inducements to fight one another and resume a unified front against the occupation.

Hamas has never launched a military strike "against any force outside the theater of the occupation"? Are they serious? Yes, actually--because, it bears reminding, they see all of Israel as being an occupation, and all Israelis (indeed, all Jews) as a "force" which constitutes military targets. Ditto for the "60 years" reference. Israel only acquired the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, 40 years ago. But Israel the state was founded about 60 years ago. Yousef can't hide what he won't say directly--his party and his government want to see an end to Israel--all of it. And they consider attacks on anyone, anywhere within Israel's to be legitimate military action (actually, I'll caveat that--does Hamas consider Israeli-Arabs to be legitimate targets, or only Jews?). This is supposed to persuade us to deal? This persuades me of nothing more than of Yousef's inhumanity.

Finally, the BBC, whose coverage is seen by many to be excessively hostile to Israel, came out with a "correction" from one of its reports:
The BBC apologized this week for referring to Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and promised not to repeat "the mistake," following a complaint by four British organizations.

Arab Media Watch, Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Friends of Al-Aksa and the Institute of Islamic Political Thought sent a joint complaint to the BBC after a presenter on its Football Focus program on March 24 mentioned that Jerusalem was Israel's capital and "historic soul."

The BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit posted a response on its Web site: "The reference was a passing one in a context where the focus was on sport, not politics. While recognizing the sensitivity of the issue of the status of Jerusalem, the ECU took the view that the program-makers had taken sufficient action by acknowledging the error and rectifying the Web site.

Israel's capital is, in fact, Jerusalem. There is really no getting around that. It is where the government is seated and where the Knesset is. Some countries refuse to recognize that fact. That's insulting, but it does not change reality. What's most asinine about this whole thing is that the part of Jerusalem in which Israel's capital is, the Western half, is not "occupied" or a product of post-1967 borders. It has been Israeli since the nation was born. There is no reasonable ground for objecting to Israel's capital being placed there, or labeling the spade a spade. That is, unless you think that Israel is not legitimately in control of any of its territory. In this, the BBC and Hamas seem to be of one mind.

As I said, very revealing.

Fun For The Whole Family

It's the redistricting game!

It's actually quite good. Try it out!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happy Juneteenth!

I almost forgot: Happy Juneteenth!

For those of you who don't know, Juneteenth commemorates the day in which Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced that the slaves were free in the state of Texas. It was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but Juneteenth generally commemorates the day in which all southern slaves were freed.

Juneteenth is symbolic of what I hope America can be. Not a country that denies its sins, but one that overcomes them. One cannot celebrate Juneteenth without remembering that we are celebrating the freedom of those we enslaved. But it is justly a celebration--a celebration of a shining moment when we could see beyond the clouds of racial hostility and oppression and, if only briefly, join hands to act as our brother and sister's keeper. I only wish it was more prevalent (I had only first heard about it last year).

Blogospheric roundup:

Kimberly Michelle explains the modern-day import of Juneteenth:
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today.

Ward Smythe:
Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride-filled day. It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African American experience. It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities and nationalities - as nothing is more comforting than the hand of a friend.

Beautiful, Also, Are The Souls of My Black Sisters

Facing South



And finally, here is the conclusion from an American Heritage essay:
In a famous public address delivered nine years before the Civil War, Frederick Douglass asked, “What, to the American slave, is your fourth of July?” It was a question that lingered for well over a century after emancipation. For black Americans living through Jim Crow, Juneteenth was the closest approximation of a true Independence Day. Each year they gathered in churches throughout the South and sang, “Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel?/ Then why not every man?”

Enjoy the festivities, if you have them--otherwise, create some of your own!

Who Cares?

I found this Kevin Drum post very depressing:
OK, I have to admit that Hillary Clinton's latest spot is pretty cute. She sure is a lousy actress, though. Luckily, we're electing a president, not an actress, so who cares?

Can't say that I like the song pick much, though. But then, we're electing a president, not a deejay, so who cares?

I don't care, because it shouldn't matter. And yet, it matters. I have no idea how many talented, intelligent, compassionate people could have become politicians if politics wasn't like this. But, alas.

This is why I spent most of today watching West Wing reruns.

They've Already Won...

Headline on "Paranoia grows over Google's power."

Sure. It's just "paranoia." Don't be afraid. The Google corps is your friend. Trust the corps.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The TNR Problem

I'm a proud New Republic subscriber. But I think there is a lot to be said about this profile of TNR by Eric Alterman in the American Prospect. It focuses on Marty Peretz, who is, to be fair, a big problem for the magazine, even if he is out of step with most of the other writers on staff. The piece ends with a quote from a blog commenter: "Peretz is batshit crazy. TNR produces a lot of good stuff. Such are the ironies of life." Fair enough. The vast majority of TNR's output is both very good and very much in line with the prevailing liberal consensus. But there are some very notable exceptions, including much of what Peretz writes and a significant portion of their foreign policy analysis. The latter, however, seems (at least temporarily) suitably chastised by the utter failure of the Iraq War (much as I am). It remains unclear where they will go from there in the mid- to long-term. And as for Peretz--well, I think that TNR's long-term viability is dependent on getting him out of there entirely. His time has passed.

I first found the piece via LGM, and they have chosen to focus on this passage of Alterman's piece:
It is a sad but true fact of American political life that liberals rarely exercise so much influence as when they happen to be endorsing conservative causes, and this temptation has proven consistently irresistible to Peretz and his magazine. TNR under Peretz has been a vehicle that proved extremely helpful to Ronald Reagan's wars in Central America and George Bush's war in Iraq. It provided seminal service to Newt Gingrich's and William Kristol's efforts to kill the Clinton plan for universal health care and offered intellectual legitimacy to Charles Murray's efforts to portray black people as intellectually inferior to whites. As for liberal causes, however … well, not so much.

Is there something to this? Of course. Anytime a politician, intellectual, or institution steps outside its established narrative boundaries, it's going to receive far more attention than when it toes the line. Chuck Hagel's turn on the Iraq War will invariably garner far more media attention than all of his other mainline conservative positions (which is why he has a primary challenger). It's perhaps lamentable, but then, I don't see how to avoid it in TNR without draining the "electricity" of debates that Alterman admits flows through TNR at its best. Perhaps if the official editorial line was more unabashedly liberal, that could be the compromise we're looking for? In which case, the next few months or years could be crucial--if Franklin Foer, who himself is not detested on the left, can affect such a change, that might be able to revive TNR's liberal standing without sacrificing its unique position as an engagement ground for ideas, rather than a proving ground for ideological purity.

The other thing off this, of course, is that TNR can no longer be contrarian just for the sake of it. I don't think it is unreasonable to pressure liberals on how to incorporate moral and democratic values into their foreign policy (which isn't to say they should win that argument--here is an excellent post by Publius that provides a strong challenge to a "democracy promoting" foreign policy). But I don't think that providing space and cover to "The Bell Curve", or the notion that liberal critics of hawkish foreign policy are unserious kooks is in any way justified by being a magazine of ideas. Sometimes, its important to challenge prevailing liberal orthodoxy. However, there is a fine line between that, and throwing down gauntlets just to prove how "independent" you are. The latter needs to be reined in if the magazine is to be taken seriously.

But if Alterman provides a compelling critique of the sins of the magazine, he also highlights many of its virtues (not just its back page literary reviews, either). Alterman does us all a service when he notes that TNR, even at the moments when many thought the magazine was at its nadir, has continued to make an important and positive contribution to the American political discussion. Neither this, nor its legacy as a flagship publication in American progressive politics, should be forgotten in our haste to condemn it over a misguided foreign policy. I think that TNR has a valuable role to play in the evolving conversation of the 21st century left. It is beyond clear that they have some sins to work out. It is also beyond clear that they contribute a lot of positive work to the body of liberal journalism (how many "hail mary's" are equivalent to the good TNR did getting George Allen's racist past mainstream media attention--and with it, control of the Senate?). Any magazine which provides a consistent outlet for Jonathan Chait, Michelle Cottle, Ryan Lizza, and John Judis has a role to play in my liberal sphere.

Jonathan Stein--of the staunchly liberal Mother Jones, calls the piece a "hit job" (which I think is too harsh, and if Stein is stunned to be defending TNR, I'm shocked that I'm saying MoJo is being too easy on them), and says that--sins notwithstanding--its time to reincorporate TNR into the progressive liberal discussion. No free passes, but an opportunity to make amends. I concur, and I hope that TNR can continue to right its ship and be a force for a positive, progressive agenda in the coming years.

Great Questions in Legal Scholarship

L. Camille Hebert, Why Don't "Reasonable Women" Complain About Sexual Harassment?, 82 Indiana L.J. 711 (2007).

I love a little snark in article titles.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

For Love or Country

Mark Olson has continued his discussion of patriotism and repentance, and the way that citizens should balance between the two. He uses me as an example of people who can never stop to just unabashedly praise their country. Mark offers a comparison to the Orthodox Church:
As far as refusing to ever express unabashed patriotism, as Mr Schraub claims he must do, while I think such sentiments are necessary, I don’t think they need to flavor all national events and days. In fact, I think going that far is an error. Taking the analogy with the very penitential nature of the Eastern Orthodox church, a penitential attitude and repentance flavors most of the year. However, it is set aside for the Paschal celebration, indeed for the 5 weeks of Pascha, prostration and kneeling is forbidden. There is a time for repentance. But it is not … all the time.

Perhaps, though I assumed the pain in my knee was from a tennis injury, not too much time spent in "prostration and kneeling." There is a serious question here, about the right way to incorporate repentance into civic life. But I'm not convinced the balance I've struck is an inherently bad one. And it is a balance. If you search through my archives, you'll see many, many posts that refer to and take seriously the many admirable elements of our country: traditions of freedom, democratic norms, egalitarianism. What troubles Mark, I suspect, is that very often these references come in the form of critiques that we are not living up to them. When we lock up innocent men (and sometimes children) without trial or hearing, we are betraying the principle of freedom. When we engage in naked voter suppression schemes, or treat some of our tax-paying citizens (in D.C.) as a colony on the Potomac, we do violence to the tradition of democracy. And of course, when we continue to support devastating structures of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and inequality of opportunity, we make a mockery of the egalitarian strain of American thought that we claim to adhere to.

When I make such a claim, what am I doing? If I thought of America as irredeemably fallen, it wouldn't make sense to make reference to these supposed histories of liberty, democracy, etc.. What purpose would they serve? Why would I assume they would have any hold on the polity, or would carry and persuasive authority? By virtue of the fact that I make the appeal, I am inherently taking seriously the meaning of weight of the ethical principles and traditions I appeal to. This, then, is the distinction between my way of expressing pride in country and Mark's. Mark wishes to keep our penance and our pride separate. There is a time for one, and a time for the other, but we need and should not demand that all be present at all times. My formulation is the precise opposite. Yes, the critique and the repentance will never leave our discourse--we cannot flee our sins. But at the same time, this critical outlook comes within the context of giving serious weight and respect to the positive aspects of American life we wish to celebrate. The critique only makes sense within the context of a political tradition that would be responsive to it. The fact that I have politically comprehensible language for expressing moral wrongs is the tribute.

This view sees America as an antinomy--a set of irreconcilable rational opposites. Undeniably, we have a history of racism in this country--one that inflects everything we do and every policy we enact. Equally true is that we have a political language of equality in our nation--from the abolitionists to the Reconstruction Amendments to the Civil Rights Act. A great deal of American political work has been focused around reconciling these two opposites. It is amazing, if you read contemporary texts, how much effort the Jim Crow South put into trying to call its racial state of affairs liberal, egalitarian, fair, and in accordance with the mandates of law. Even in the depths of Jim Crow, White southerners weren't willing to completely cut themselves off from the language of a liberal, equal state. And even at the height of the civil rights revolution, the we also saw savage race riots around the country. What this shows us is that--even in our darkest (and lightest) hours--both sides of the dualism have pull on us. I am opposed to Mark's regime of separation because it seems to severely mistake the relationship of America's sins to its virtues. Neither makes sense without reference to the other. The many acts of violence and injustice, past and present, we have committed as part and parcel of our culture circumscribes whatever tradition of liberty, equality, and democracy we may possess. But the very idea of a critique against these injustices is framed by a cultural scaffolding that allows these critiques to extend beyond their provincial borders and have real weight in the hearts and minds of the dominant caste.

This, in sum, is why I have trouble ultimately wrapping my head around Mark's paradigm. I guess I can see its appeal--it is certainly more fun to be able to celebrate one's history untainted and unblemished by remembrance of our sins. But ultimately, it lacks coherency. Fredrick Douglass famously asked "What to the Negro is the 4th of July?" If we adopt Mark's position, how do we answer him? Do we demand his silence, so as to not ruin the festivities? Do we tell him that he should be thankful, too, and that he should suppress the persistent nagging feeling that our freedom was bought at the expense of his slavery? If Douglass himself adopted those stances on his own, maybe I wouldn't have a problem. But if he feels compelled to ask, then we, I feel, are obligated to give an answer that takes seriously his implicit indictment. And I suspect (without proof), at the end of the day, that you will find more instances in my archives where I cite the virtues of America as constitutive, serious, ongoing facets of our social existence than Mark cites the sins of America in the same manner (as constitutive, serious and ongoing facets of America's social existence).

So where does this all leave us? In contrast to Mark's invocation of the Orthodox model, I will forward a Christian theologian of my own: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's notion of "cheap grace" and "costly grace."
Cheap grace...amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sins departs.

Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must the asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Though Bonhoeffer's argument is decidedly Christian, I think it has salience beyond that. It is obviously difficult--Bonhoeffer died in Nazi concentration camps for vocally opposing the Holocaust. Maybe we can't all be Bonhoeffer--though if we aren't willing to make the sacrifices necessary to truly account for our unjust advantages and privileges, than I don't think we can turn around and claim absolution. But in general, when the question is sin, I'm not sure my political or moral obligation is to make life easy for the sinners. For sins this deep, grace doesn't come from merely saying "I'm sorry." It comes from word and deed, it is most certainly a "gift" and it must be "asked for", and it is up to the wronged to determine what and how the sinner must pay restitution. America's sins are such that we need costly grace, America's virtues are such that there are concepts, language, ideas, and precepts which can bridge the victimized with their victimizers and allow grace to be achieved.